Williams, Crayton, Austin help Cowboys forget TO

Sep 16, 2009 - 10:27 PM By JAIME ARON AP Sports Writer

IRVING, Texas(AP) -- Their names are Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin. They don't go by their initials, don't have a reality TV show and don't do anything more brash than Williams favoring a kelly green cap for his beloved, burnt-orange Texas Longhorns.

One game into the season, though, they've already proven themselves capable of replacing Terrell Owens for the Dallas Cowboys.

The big-play void supposedly created by T.O.'s departure sure didn't exist in the opener. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dared Tony Romo and the Cowboys to beat them deep, so they did, hitting Austin for a 42-yard touchdown, Williams for a 66-yard TD, and Crayton for an 80-yard score.

Romo wound up with a career-best 353 yards and Dallas won 34-21. Just like that, Romo and the Cowboys answered one of the biggest questions facing them this season, even if they brushed it off as no big deal.

"We knew what we could do," Williams said Wednesday. "What have we proved? It's one game. Talk to me in Week 10 or 12. Then we can brag. This was just one game."

Owens averaged 78 catches for 1,196 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Cowboys over the last three seasons, helping Romo develop from a third-stringer to a Pro Bowler. They also hooked up for more touchdowns than any quarterback-receiver combination in the NFL. So it was only logical to wonder how he'd be replaced, especially considering how little Romo relied on the other wide receivers last year.

It was a dysfunctional formula. Romo tried keeping Owens happy by getting him the ball early and often, but the flip side was that he never got in a groove with his other targets. By season's end, even the Dallas players were complaining about how predictable they'd become.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made sure that changed by cutting Owens. Then offensive coordinator Jason Garrett redid the playbook, emphasizing formations that give Romo plenty of options and defenses plenty of decisions.

They showed a little bit of everything in the opener.

Three running backs had carries on the season-opening drive. Williams went from forgotten man to catching Romo's first two throws of the season. Dallas used two tight ends on most plays and three on some. Occasionally, one or two of those tight ends lined up wide, with a receiver in the slot. The Cowboys also unveiled their version of the wildcat.

"You got mismatches all over the place: inside, outside, in the backfield. It's fun," Williams said. "We're just going to keep the pedal to the metal."

But the biggest thing was how comfortable Romo was throwing to his receivers - all of them.

Defenses that were hoping to slack off one or two of them now have reason to think otherwise. All three showed what they can do and, perhaps most importantly, Romo showed he's willing to spread the ball.

"I don't have to think, `Oh, this guy's over here, or that guy.' You just go through it, react and throw," Romo said. "Whoever that guy is, he gets it. That's a good sign because I don't have to worry that this guy just might not win because he's an average player."

Austin came into this season averaging nearly 20 yards per catch, but only had 18 catches in three seasons. He missed a chance for a big play in the first half Sunday when Romo overthrew him. Dallas ran the same play again on the next series, only with Austin on the other side. It turned into the touchdown that put the Cowboys ahead for good.

Williams caught a measly 19 passes in 10 games last season, which did little to draw coverage from Owens. Now there's a drastic change. He's gone from decoy to clearly the No. 1 receiver. Or, as he put it Wednesday, "I'm not in left field. I can come in at shortstop and play a little bit."

The touchdown was somewhat of a milestone, too, because it was his second with the Cowboys and first thrown by Romo.

The touchdown to Crayton sealed the victory and made for quite a hat trick. It was the longest touchdown of Romo's career - thus, longer than any he threw to Owens - and it was to the guy considered the slowest of Dallas' receivers.

"He outran everyone in their secondary," Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said, laughing.

Romo looked better doing things this way, too.

He didn't have a turnover; he did in 10 of 13 games last season. His rating of 140.6 was higher than any game of 2008 and third best of his career.

Of course, it was just one game. Now he has to keep doing it, starting Sunday night against the New York Giants.

"Each week we're going to see what teams think they have to stop," Romo said. "At the beginning of the game, they're going to show their hand as far as what they're trying to take away from you that specific game. When that happens, you have to be able to see it, react to it and move on on that specific play. ... Football is a lot of one-on-one battles at a lot of different positions. In different situations, one guy can really hurt a whole unit. So the more guys you have who can do those things, it's definitely a benefit."

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